Culture vs Diversity, Or Cultural Diversity?

Patrick Cournoyer
Culture vs Diversity, Or Cultural Diversity?

When interviewing, employers are often trying to determine if the potential new recruit is going to be a good ‚cultural fit‘. Will this laid-back job-hopper be able to keep up with the fierce pace of the organisation? Will the introvert enjoy the buzzy company which prides itself on collaboration? It’s important to assess- after all, a good cultural fit reportedly leads to greater job satisfaction, an increased likelihood of staying with the company and superior job performance. 

However, there’s a risk that in looking for that cultural fit, organisations end up with just one type of person- a mould of those that came before. And without diversity, you don’t always find the most productive team, or the ying to each other’s yang.

People from different backgrounds and cultures, of different ages and sexes, each bring something to the workforce. If we talk stereotypes for a second, that employee with thirty years‘ experience may have the calm and collected attitude needed in times of panic, while the intern could have a fresh perspective for finding the next game-changing idea. If you’re lucky enough to have a workforce with a range of backgrounds, life experiences, languages and knowledge of other cultures‘ ways of working, then you’ll have a great competitive advantage.

The goal is to create a ‚culturally competent‘ organisation: one that’s conscious of different groups, behaviours and attitudes, and adapts to suit any differences. Not only will that help to win the top talent and improve employee satisfaction, but McKinsey found that 35% of ethnically-diverse companies and 15% of gender-diverse companies are more likely to have financial returns than their national industry median.

Set the right message from the word go 

Let’s start at the beginning of your hiring process. Are your job descriptions unintentionally putting off an entire group of people? As we found out back in the days of GCSE English, language is gendered. So scrap any phrases that evoke a male or female culture. Say goodbye to ’supportive‘ and ‚collaborative‘ if you don’t want to deter men, and remove references to ninjas and competitiveness to encourage female applications. 

Are each of those ‚requirements‘ listed a necessity too? Hewlett Packard found that men will apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will only send over their CV when they meet 100% of the prerequisites.

Check any wording around ‚X years‘ experience‘. If this is more of a nice-to-have, don’t put it in, you’ll potentially scare away a generation of applicants. It can open you up to lawsuits too- specifying years of experience essentially specifies age, which is a protected characteristic and something you can’t discriminate against. Say ‚proven experience in X‘ instead.

Ingrain diversity company-wide

When it comes to office life, encouraging people to engage more with each other can work wonders. Introduce a monthly company lunch, co-working spaces and frequent socials. Consciously create diverse teams too, and as people get to know each other, these will develop more organically.

If you feel like your company might need some extra work when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, set up talks or workshops on different cultures. If possible, involve colleagues from a range of backgrounds to help develop and deliver these so it’s not an alienating, top-down initiative. Johnson & Johnson conducted a video conference on mutual perceptions, diversity and respect, which increased productivity and was rated by 100 participants as the most valuable training they ever had.

Make flexible working hours the default for everyone. That way, a parent can shift their hours around a little to pick their kids up from school or someone who is trying to develop a new skill can take an after-work class. Adopting a ‚business-as-usual‘ approach to any culturally based practical arrangements is helpful too. For example, your organisation may let employees who observe Ramadan change their hours. This should be presented to the team as simply what happens- if you do it well enough, it shouldn’t even need to be presented.

In the end, there’s nothing like a bit of informality to get people really talking. Celebrate different festivals together- fun isn’t just for Christmas in a diverse workplace!

When it’s time to say goodbye

With a culture like this, hopefully your staff won’t want to leave anytime soon. But if it is time for an employee to go, make sure to conduct an exit interview. Ask what they’d improve around company culture and find out any sources of tension that may have occurred if they felt excluded at any stage. 

If creating or maintaining a diverse team sounds daunting, remember this: there are more similarities than differences between your colleagues. After all, your team all chose to work in the same organisation. That’s definitely something to build on. 

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